The Prison Project

The Pacific Film Foundation documentary team has the goal of telling stories of personal transformation that have occurred and are occurring inside prison walls.  While the team is enthusiastic to tell these remarkable stories, they also recognize the need to honor the uniqueness of each person’s individual journey. This is not a one-size-fits-all type of transformative process. It requires, at the very least, familiarity with the key processes involved along with an honest exposition of the grim and harsh realities of prison life.

“The fact is that many people have made prison into a good place – the place where men and women transform their lives for the better, in a way they themselves say they could not have found on the outside.  At their best, prisons are modern monasteries – quiet, contemplative worlds – where people are able to confront the truth about themselves, come to find peace with it, and be free.” Stephen Chinlund.

“Are you familiar with the word, ‘Ubuntu?’  It means ‘I see myself as inextricably bound with the rest of humanity.’” Troy Williams, Inmate/Producer/Director, San Quentin Prison Report

“A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?” Nelson Mandela

“I believe that this program in San Quentin has saved Troy’s life.” Ann Williams, Mother of Troy Williams

The traditional context for deep personal transformation situates a person in a contemplative setting that includes solitude, undisturbed quiet, and beautiful surroundings. For some, a penitentiary (a place for doing ‘penance’) can model a contemporary monastery, with ‘cells,’ ‘solitary confinement,’ and ‘silence.’  At Folsom, at least with the men that I work with, nothing could be further from this view.  Here the penitentiary experience is a vastly different environment, where life-threatening violence is the norm, and cacophonous, irritating noise is ubiquitous. Correctional Officers (guards) routinely hassle them coming to Centering Prayer, and at times interrupt the prayer time itself to let their presence be known. For these men Folsom is no ‘monastery.’  Yet, unmistakably there are a few men at Folsom Prison who have significant prayer and spiritual experiences that are legitimately described as ‘transformative’. Their lives are lives of service to their fellow inmates in the simplest of ways. I recognize this transformation because I’ve had the good fortune to observe it over the years. I am not certain how obvious this will be to an outside observer. So, my hope is to help the filmmakers and then the world appreciate the particular ‘transformative’ experience of each imprisoned man.”     Ray Leonardini, Volunteer Chaplain, Folsom State Prison, CA

“The women in this program (called Prison of Peace) at Valley State Prison for Women, Chowchilla, CA (now a men’s prison) have experienced dramatic personal transformations.  This program has allowed them to discover or re-discover their own humanity, become aware of their own emotions, and begin to understand and reflect back the emotions of others. By learning peacemaking and mediation skills, they are taught how people evade personal accountability and how to morally re-engage those who have become morally disengaged. As a byproduct, they naturally have re-engaged themselves morally.  In addition, there has been a qualitative shift in personal interactions in the inmate population.”

It is known that there are men and women alive today who have reached superior levels of consciousness and inner peace.  Some have reached this state by following the ancient and proven traditions of spiritual solitude, contemplation, meditation and prayer.  Others have submitted themselves wholeheartedly to give service to others and in so doing have achieved an advanced level of enlightenment.  All of the subjects in this episodic documentary are transforming themselves while still incarcerated.  The intention of the documentary filmmakers is to enable each of these unique individuals to speak his or her profound and enlightening truth openly and freely via vivid and intimate film portraits. 

The Incarcerated Free

Despite their physical custody, the minds, hearts and spirits of these individuals soar above and beyond the physical walls of the prisons, allowing them to achieve a freedom of spirit, perhaps greater than that of many in the “free world” as it’s referred to by those on the inside.  This episodic documentary is created neither to praise nor to blame prisons, but rather to highlight the potential for personal growth and redemption in those inmates who are driven to create lives that are not governed by the actions of their past, even when those lives will be lived out behind the fences.

The filmmakers believe that these stories will be seen as positive by the CDCR, inmates, judges, attorneys, victims, families, the communities of California and the world.  It’s important that audiences hear these powerful voices speaking of their desire to rise above their past actions to bring peace, understanding and forgiveness into their lives and the lives of those around them.

The Modern Monastery

The modern English penitentiary system, developed in the 18th century by John Howard borrowed much from the structure and discipline of the ecclesiastic penal system. In fact, Howard’s conception of a prison with individual cells was based on Pope Clement XII’s prison of San Michelle, built in 1703 to reform juvenile delinquents, which applied the monastic discipline for purposes of civil punishment and correction.

One can clearly see how the modern prison system mimics the monastery “cells” – hence the name, the emphasis on silence, isolation and self-denial with the aim of bringing self-reflection, correction and a return to society.  The whole notion of solitary confinement was based on a monastic principle.

Direct Cinema

The episodic documentary will seek (in the words of Robert Drew, US documentarian and pioneer of Direct Cinema) “to capture real life without intruding.”  It relies on real and tacit agreements among the filmmaker, subjects and audience to act as if the presence of the camera does not substantially alter the recorded event.  It will seem as if the camera is being ignored.  The goal is to be strictly observational.


Called simply “Blake” by his friends, the guiding light of the project is Herb Blake, a man who achieved his own transformation within the walls of Folsom State Prison.  Before his untimely passing on January 8, 2012 Herb had discussed with Pacific Film Foundation his intense desire to teach the world about the transformation possible in prison, using his own life as an example.  Herb was in daily contact with Joe Hartnett and Dayle Davidson, Ph.D. in their development of this documentary.

Herb’s first book, The Last Place I Looked, is a testament to the transformative power of faith and centering prayer.   When he passed away, Herb was working on the second of two books in a series, Parables for Today.    Herb was released from prison on his birthday, December 8, 2008, and continued the work he had begun in prison, organizing and leading victim awareness groups and teaching forgiveness in special workshops.

Entering daily life with his characteristic vigor and good humor, Herb volunteered at the Center for Restorative Justice at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, was a co-facilitator of the Victims/Offenders reconciliation program at Homeboys Industries, was vice-chairman of the Board of Directors for the Office For Health Justice, and was co-chair of the Re-Entry/Social Justice Committee with the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater LA.

Herb’s message extended well beyond Los Angeles and the U.S. when he became the producer/host of his own radio talk show, “Path to Justice.”  His special guests came from his growing global network of people seeking social justice.  Many of the members of the Advisory Council listed below were recruited from among Herb’s colleagues.

Director:  Joe Hartnett

Story Consultant: Mark Jonathan Harris

Producers: Dayle Hartnett, Ph.D., Daniel S. McCoy, Joe Hartnett

Advisory Council:

Leslie Acoca, Stoneleigh Foundation, Philadelphia, PA

Daniel Ang, Lutheran Restorative Justice, Singapore

Stephen Chinlund, Episcopal Priest, former prison warden, Author, Prison Transformations

Ron Claassen, Professor Emeritus, Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, CA

Virginia Domingo de la Fuente, Restorative Justice Lawyer, Burgos, Spain

Rose Elizondo, Restorative Justice Interfaith Roundtable, San Quentin, California

Adriana Galvan, Ph.D., Asst. Professor, Developmental Psychology, UC, Los Angeles, CA

Chris Graveson, Inspector of Police, Wellington, New Zealand

Bill Hodgman, District Attorney, Los Angeles County, CA

David Hutchinson, Senior Vice President, Program Partners, Venice, CA

Troy Williams, Producer/Director, San Quentin Prison Report

Mark Yantze, Adjunct Professor, Queens School of Religion, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Executive Producer
Mark Jonathan Harris

Diana Baumbauer
Steve Chinlund
Joe Hartnett
Laurel Kaufer
Ray Leonardini
Chris Whittaker


  • With One Tied Hand (Early Short Version)

  • A Delicate Balance